Do we prevent somebody being hurt by superstition or faith by rejecting and challenging those things? 

Is it mistaken to support organised religion in membership or donations?

If people do good because they are human, not because God prompts them then is it right to risk giving God any credit when they alone own their good?

 


WERE JESUS’ MIRACLES MYTHICAL?
 
A minority of scholars believe that the gospels were fairy-tales with a moral in them. The theory is supposed to have some New Testament support.

Satan tempted Jesus to jump from the temple for he would be miraculously preserved from harm. Jesus refused saying that it would be tempting God to do that.
 
Satan wanted Jesus to convert others by this miracle – there would have been no temptation in it without an audience.
 
If Jesus had miracle powers it would not have been tempting God to use them. They were his powers. God being all powerful can do what he wishes. If something could have bad consequences God’s providence can avert them.
 
It would have been tempting God if Jesus had no miracle powers at all. And Satan would probably have wanted him to die from the fall. Satan wasn’t very confident in Jesus’ powers either!
 
In Matthew 12, after Jesus cast out a devil and chastised the Jewish leaders for saying it was the Devil did it he thought he had proven to them he could do miracles for and by God. Then they asked him for a sign and he replied that this evil age looks for a sign but will get none but that of Jonah. Just like Jonah was in the belly of the whale for three days and three nights (Jonah 2:1) so Jesus said he would be inside the earth. He means that he will rise again. This is the only place where he talks like this. In Luke 11 he tells the crowd that the evil age seeks a sign but will get only the sign of Jonah for Jesus will be to the people what Jonah, the prophet of repentance, was to Nineveh. Then he preaches that he means calling the people to repentance. Either this is additional stuff and is not parallel to Matthew or it is Luke changing what Matthew wrote for he did not like it. But it is the Matthew version that is important. In it Jesus says that the only miracle he will do will be to raise himself from the dead. The other signs will not be as convincing because they will be and have been done in private but this one will be done in public and nobody will be able to refute it. Or it could mean that the miracles all except his own resurrection will be real miracles, the rest are indeed signs but only natural signs worked by God and so are not miracles. The ambiguity is important because it means the Christians cannot be sure if they were miracles. Perhaps the other signs were only parables – this would mean the resurrection of Jesus was the only miracle literally claimed for him.
 
“Jesus said that the mystery of the kingdom was hidden from outsiders because he only gave it in parables they couldn’t understand (Mark 4:11). This mystery could be revealed in action as much as in words. Jesus is saying that he told events of his past life in a way cloaked in symbolism when telling them clearly would divulge the mystery. The gospellers put such stories in the New Testament”.

Jesus speaking in parables is hardly evidence that the whole of the gospel material is a parable. But you can work out the gospel parables without needing explanations. On that basis the scholars would reply that the parables have a further meaning that we have no decoding method for. If the parables don’t say what they seem to be saying then the gospel material that narrates the actions of Jesus could also be in need of decoding.
 
Jesus’ statement implies that the gospel material and perhaps its true meaning was hidden except from high-level trusted Christians. There was something to be hidden which is tantamount to indicating that the miracles are mythological.
 
“Mark 6:51, 52 related that the confusion of the disciples about Jesus walking on water proved their minds were closed to what the multiplication of the loaves indicated. The Christian answer is that it was about possessing what such powers meant. Mark is saying they had seen what it meant but they refused to admit they could see it and closed their minds. The disciples already knew from the scriptures and from Jesus that miracles proved nothing. They were not arguing about whether or not they were tricks or really paranormal. It was the meaning of the events they refused to see. And we know that Mark did not indicate that Jesus was more than a prophet with supernatural powers. If Jesus made thousands of loaves fall out of two baskets in front of thousands, then only a lunatic would say there was trickery afoot. The only possible conclusion is that the author of the story not necessarily the author of Mark is hinting that the miracles never literally happened. The confusion of the disciples is a hint that the non-literal understanding is required. The gospels were incubated in the Church for the Church so the Church when it speaks of the disciples speaks of itself. The gospels like the Book of Revelation have seemingly literal stories which are not literal at all.”
 
Some say that the apostles did not realise that the events symbolised that Jesus was the Saviour or the Son of God. His giving the food symbolised his devotion to others while his walking on water displayed his power and his power to cleanse hearts. Jesus liked people to look at what he did and find the things he symbolised with them. But Jesus didn’t want to be seen as Messiah and didn’t emphasise the saviour role which wasn’t mentioned until much later. And we must remember that whatever it was that should have been realised it was something already realised deep down. So the exegesis of the scholars is probably correct.
 
“Jesus said that miracles had no apologetic significance (Matthew 7). But he also said that he did wonders to prove that his mission was authorised by God (Matthew 11:2-6). This could be a contradiction or Jesus could simply be saying that his strange works were not miracles but perfectly normal events that showed his wisdom under the divine guidance. They were signs of goodness but not signs that disturbed the order of nature. This solution for the discrepancy would be a denial that he could do miracles or denied that we should take any miracle stories literally.”
 
The only thing that is at fault here is forgetting that the apparent contradiction might really be a contradiction – it might be a clue that there is a hidden meaning in the miracle tales. We don’t know if the argument is correct. But it proves that nobody can prove that the gospels have one true interpretation and that that interpretation is hidden under symbols and stories and can only be cracked if one has the code. The surface story might contain the true story and the true story might reveal nothing unusual about Jesus. We just don’t know. And that is fine. Taking the miracle stories as non-literal is an option and that is sufficient for silencing anybody who has the cheek to say they must be taken literally and no other way.
 
The stories would be hidden because they contain dangerous facts but not embarrassing ones for they are best permitted to go out of existence.
 
The practice of telling stories that have a hidden meaning isn’t at all unusual. We find it in the Book of Daniel and Revelation and in some of the writings of the Dead Sea Scrolls. Proving that he was mentally unbalanced and that those who took him with more than a pinch of salt were as bad, Paul claimed that he found that a story from Genesis was not literally true but had a secret meaning (Galatians 4:21-31). He would not have been knowingly dishonest for people could use that method of interpretation to make the scriptures mean anything and it would be bad example and show himself up. The meaning he thought he got from it didn’t teach anything controversial so he wouldn’t have sanely done something like that in order to teach stuff that his flock already accepted.
 
Paul, had he been hearing miracle stories of Jesus, would not have been taking them literally.
 
Some reply that you cannot take this as evidence that the gospels are not literally true for even if the entire Old Testament is an allegory the New Testament which claims to be superior would too serious to be non-literal. This is nonsense for the Old Testament claims to be the preparation for the New. It is more important than the New in the sense that the New depends on it for authority and divine sanction. A non-literal preparation is useless and could be a preparation for just about anything – the Cabala for example in its many sects is one example of useless and misleading such preparation could be.
 
Some say that Paul might have looked on Genesis as an allegory but you can have a literal story that has an allegorical sense so don’t think he is denying that Genesis is historical. But Paul never gave any hint that the story was history. He used it to prove a point which it could only do if the allegory was the only true meaning. Otherwise the story could have been used to prove anything.
 
Even if it is unlikely that the gospels have a secret meaning we just do not know. We would be glad if they had for then that would destroy the grounds for belief in their wonder-tales and above all save the world from the perils of religious fundamentalism.
 
When Jesus said in John that his words all had a veiled meaning he might just have meant that they were hard to grasp. He would not have meant that they are all strictly like that so the clear ones would have been exceptions and many of them are clear eg. John 8:14-18.
 
If Jesus’ telling Peter that where he is going he cannot follow hides something then it follows that Peter’s question inquiring where he will go also must be a code and if that is a code then so must be the record that Peter asked him this. That would mean that John was never meant for public eyes but only for those who could understand the story below the surface. There might be no way to crack the code if there is one for God could mean a specific person when it occurs on the first line of the original manuscript and another person when it appears elsewhere. It might be that the surface story is literally true and that there is a hidden story under it.
 
It could be argued that when John has Jesus saying that the Law of Moses requires two reliable witnesses at least before a testimony should be listened to and when Jesus says he is one witness to his own claims and God is the other that this is so absurd that it could be a hint that Jesus had no supernatural powers. He could have made three angels appear to the people he was testifying to, to tell them who he was and that his message was true. He couldn’t so he desperately had to resort to a dumb argument.
 
If John is the oldest gospel then it could be that its fairy-tales started off the rest culminating in the production of literal-minded gospels. If John is in code then any other gospels that claim to be literally true are its rivals and one cannot believe that both are the word of God.

The Catholic Encyclopaedia challenges the view that the gospellers did not mean for anybody to take their stories about Jesus’ feats literally but they were only meant to be legends to get across the power of Jesus over our hearts and spirits. It quotes Acts 4:20 and Luke 1:2 to prove that they meant to be historical. But the apostles saying in Acts that they saw all Jesus said and did does not prove that Luke was telling the truth for he is the only person that says it was all history and that the apostles told his stories as historical. There is something amiss when the apostles are appointed the supreme witnesses and an inferior who was not even an apostle has to tell us that the apostles functioned as such. It makes Luke, who was not an apostle and who could not even give his name though it would have been no harm for he was hardly an important personage – and it is not hard to figure out why – a better witness than they were! The fact that Jesus never intended this implies that Luke’s gospel is not the word of God. There is not a shred of evidence that his gospel had apostolic approval. It would be as absurd as writing something that fitted Catholic teaching and treating it as being on the level of a papal encyclical. The same goes for the Mark gospel. Only Matthew and especially John have any right to be considered as possibly being the word of the apostles though that does not mean I think they are!
 
Anyway perhaps the apostles did say such things but Luke only thinks he knows that they meant or would have accepted the miracles he recounts. Perhaps Luke was misled by the legend-makers who had come to believe in what they told him.
 
The way a few of the miracles are the cause of controversy and investigation implies that they are literal. For example see Luke 6:6-11 and John 9. And Jesus said they were signs. But perhaps the investigation was part of the legend too. For example, in John 9 the Jews check out about a man born blind being cured by Jesus. That could be to show the stubbornness of the human heart rather than an investigation just like the miracle might have been only told for some moral reason. The gospels never clearly put the miracles all on the same level. Some would have been beyond investigation and maybe it is these ones that are the legends. And legends or not they were signs for Jesus.
 
The biggest problem is that the gospels do not all say which miracles are signs and which are legends or if indeed any are at all. But we don’t know if the gospels except Luke intended to be literally true. It could be that the miracles are a hint that they were not literally true. If Jesus had really been an adept miracle-monger the Jews would have been afraid to publicly kill him in case he would come back. At the most they would have tried exiling him discreetly.

Conclusion

The miracles of Jesus are lies or legends. We cannot take them seriously.